Without any doubt, human stark reality indicates endless struggle of Native Americans for their rights and freedom in the USA. Political omnipotence and ideology of the US Government led to accusation of innocent people, one of which is Leonard Peltier. In 1975, he was accused of the deaths of two FBI agents and sentenced to life imprisonment. However, Amnesty International, National Congress of American Indians, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference claim that Peltier was illegally convicted, thus he should be immediately released. In this case, it is highly recommended to analyze historical background of the 20th century, describe the relationship between the US government and Native Americans, and investigate the deterioration of American legal system.
The Pine Ridge Reservation (the Pine Ridge Agency) is located in southwestern South Dakota. This reservation was established on Nebraska border in 1866. It is generally known that in 1971 traditional Native Americans strongly opposed selling reservation lands for mining operations. The fight against Lakota citizens was supported by the US Government that totally favored uranium mining during the supremacy of Tribal Government headed by Richard Wilson. In this case, it was clearly apprehended that violence would be applied against any opposition. Statistically, over 60 cases of violent deaths in American Indian Movement (AIM) were witnessed during 1972 – 1975. AIM was recognized as the organization that fought against racism, unemployment, and slum housing in order to protect Native Americans and reclaim their tribal lives. In early 1970s, violence against Indians rose considerably. One of the main reasons for the revival of AIM was a strong opposition to current tribal president Dick Wilson, whose rule was described as the most autocratic and repressive. Moreover, he was accused of creation of a private army, known as Guardians of the Oglala Nation, that strongly opposed political rivals, which he paid from tribal funds. In 1971, AIM failed to impeach president Dick Wilson. In 1973, more than 200 AIM clubbed together in the hamlet of Wounded Knee in order to negotiate with the American Government, to amend corrections of American legislation and to enforce treaty rights and regulations. During those events at Wounded Knee, AIM activists stood off with US law enforcement in the course of 71 days. Their main goal was to protect their tribes from current abuses and violations of their treaties. Reciprocally, the US Government answered with military assault against AIM activists. In the end, American authorities promised hearings on local conditions and treaty violations. Unfortunately, these hearings were never convened. Consequently, the US Government and AIM could not make peace, thus more than 200 people were killed. Furthermore, three following years after the Wounded Knee Incident were uneasy since 60 opponents of tribal government were violently murdered. Moreover, in 1975, the FBI built its new elite army, known as Special Weapons and Tactics members, in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in order to suppress AIM. It is known that in 1975 SWAT forces were applied for special purposes at Pine Ridge. At the same time, the FBI supported Tribal Chairman Dick Wilson and provided troops and weapons to Wilson’s adherents (the Guardians of the Oglala Nation) with the aim to stand by murder rates in the reservation. However, there was no appropriate AIM build up in the reservation, or preparation for a confrontation with the authorities. Undoubtedly, if to take the above mentioned information into consideration, it is clearly seen that on June 26, 1975, the FBI was guilty in the terrible event in Oglala (Warrior 32).
The horrible event happened on June 26, 1975, when AIM members and their families were peacefully camping at their properties. At that time, two FBI agents entered the Jumping Bull ranch in unmarked cars. Native citizens promptly became alarmed and feared an attack. Shooting was heard. Consequently, more than150 agents of GOONS surrounded the Jumping Bull ranch. As a result, low enforcers and AIM members were seriously injured, and two FBI agents, Mr. Jack Coler and Mr. Ron Williams, and a Native American Joseph Stuntz, were killed. The death of Mr. Stuntz is still uninvestigated. FBI agents were seriously wounded in a gun fight. In accordance with FBI documents, 40 people took part in the gunfight. However, the US Government suspected only four AIM members: Dino Butler, Bob Robideau, Jimmy Eagle and Leonard Peltier, who were charged with the murders and taken to trial (Ronson 2).
The first trial was against Bob Robideau and Dino Butler. The American Government was assured of gaining convictions due to two dead FBI agents, two Indians with smoking guns, with twelve white jurors in Iowa courtroom. However, Robideau and Butler were found not guilty, according to self defense. Federal jury amplified that Robideau and Butler participated in the shooting due to the tense climate on the Pine Ridge Reservation (Sayer 45).
The second trial was against Leonard Peltier. Before his accusation, he fled to Canada, since he was confident that the US Government would never apply only sentence. Thus, the trial place was changed from Cedar Rapids to Fargo, North Dakota. Moreover, the hudge, who charged Peltier with murder was changed from Judge McManus, to Judge Benson, known for Indian prosecutions. It is distinctly apprehended that these changes were made in order to ensure the US supremacy over Indians. For instance, evidence that was acceptable in the Cedar Rapids trial was not applicable in the system of justice in North Dakota. Furthermore, the current resorted to fabrication of a murder weapon in order to ensure a conviction. Later, it was proven that the shell casings applied by the US Government did not match the arms that were attributed to Peltier and to deaths of FBI agents. Consequently, Leonard Peltier was charged with two consecutive terms of life imprisonment for first degree murder (Sayer 46).
Indisputably, accusation of Peltier is a controversial issue, since FBI and Petlier’s adherents employed different evidence in order to support their points of view. The first misconception in case of Leonard Pelttier was seen when the court applied testimonies given by Myrtle Poor Bear, a local Native American woman, who pointed out that she was Leonard’s girlfriend at that time and saw how Leonard shot FBI agents. However, later it turned out that Mrs. Myrtle Poor Bear did not participate in the shooting. In that case, she was forced to testify against Peltier by FBA agents. Furthermore, she was identified as a mentally ill person, thus the US court was not allowed to take her witnessing into consideration. Afterwards, Myrtle Poor Bear was constrained to sign a similar testimony against another local Native American named Dick Marshall. The similarity between cases of Pelrier and Dick is obvious since she assured the judies to have been Dick’s girlfriend and to have seen his murder. The second evidence against Peltier was presented by three teenage witnesses who claimed that Peltier was guilty of shooting. On the contrary, they admitted that the FBI coerced them to testify deceitfully. Thirdly, the FBI considerably perplexed in testifying the vehicles used by FBI agents and Peltier. In one case, they pointed out that FBI agents had followed a pick-up truck (this vehicle does not link with Mr. Peltier). In another case, they changed their testimonies by stating that FBI agents had followed a red and white van (this vehicle was occasionally used by Peltier). In this case, one can find out that FBI’s testimonies were full of misunderstanding, falsehood, and inappropriate work of the current court. Moreover, the FBI ballistic expert, Evan Hodge, witnessed that he had performed an extractor mark test on the weapon used during the shooting and clearly pointed out that Peltier’s rifle was found near FBI agents’ car. In this case, Hodge conducted his examination more than six months after receiving the casing and about four months after receiving the gun attributed to Mr. Peltier. However, according to a FBI ballistic report, in October 1975 Mr. Hodge had conducted his examination on cartridges and confirmed that none of them matched the gun alleged to Pletier’s. However, at trial the incompatibility of examination of weapon was not taken into consideration (Matthiessen 13).
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In 2000, President Clinton was ready to pardon convicted murder Leonard Peltier for clemency. He promised that he would carefully study Peltier’s case. Moreover, Amnesty International and the international human rights organization claimed that the evidence given against Peltier was illegal and fabricated. Peltier’s bid for clemency ended with FBI march on the White House, who demanded Clinton to reject Peltier’s request.
Undoubtedly, the deaths of Mr. Stuntz and two FBI agents demonstrated violation of humanistic rights and a tremendous tragedy for American society. However, it is distinctly apprehended that an unfair trial and sentence to 23 year imprisonment of an innocent man is a representation of constant drift in American legal system. More critically, this horrible situation and death of three innocent people and life imprisonment of an innocent man endangers the most fundamental tenets of current system of justice. Furthermore, the above mentioned testimonies against Leonard Peltier represent illegal political ideology and discrimination against ethnic minorities. In case of Leonard Peltier, irresponsibility of court decision dramatically influenced Mr. Peltier’s life since he has served more than 23 years in prison. Moreover, during this time Peltier suffered from a stroke, which deteriorated his health and led to blindness in one eye. Furthermore, now he is badly suffering from debilitating jaw condition that does not allow him to chew properly and causes invariable pain. Unfortunately, prison medical facilities do not correspond to high-qualified medical means of care, thus Peltier’s health is worsened. The sore subject in case of Leonard Peltier is that modern legislation system still does not adhere to qualified rules and regulations and has a constant lack in juridical decisions.
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All in all, 21th century indicates the new level of social development in which justice system should highly provide the most effective ways of spreading the law and reducing crime rates. Unfortunately, the justice system was considerably deteriorated during the last centuries. In this case, legal system should develop a fully-fledged law system in order to serve main purpose of sentence and to make sure that the rightly accused felon is condemned to accurate punishment. Indisputably, legitimate court decisions should ensure safety of the society, bring justice to those who have suffered, and considerably reduce crime rates.